In The Moment

When I pull my brain back from tomorrow and my heart from yesterday, I live with joy today.

(I came across that quote somewhere a while back, but I have no idea who originally said or wrote it.)

It’s been a weird week. There was the unexpected follow up appointment with the neurosurgeon and a couple of surprise announcements that are going to take some time to process and accept. After a deload week in my training, I began this week expecting a fresh training week feeling strong and fresh, but that never quite materialized. At the gym on Wednesday, I wanted to throw a kettlebell through a wall, because the back was so achy and uncomfortable, and I cannot always avoid feeling frustrated and stuck. I had no anger or frustration issues at the gym today; however, my mood was drooping and I simply felt tired and weak.

I didn’t sleep well at all last night, probably the worst night in a while now. Sleep has been tricky since the start of this injury, but the past few months has at least allowed me to settle into a reasonable, functional rhythm of lying awake, falling asleep, lots of tossing and position changes, and a few wakeful periods. Last night had plenty of tossing and position changes and lying awake…not so much sleep though. It wasn’t all due to the physical symptoms. The brain was racing for the first hour or two, twisting problems into knots before unraveling them to start over again, but the brain did eventually quiet and settle. Still no sleep. Despite the central air-conditioning and bedroom fan blowing, I felt too hot, too uncomfortable. The lack of sleep probably didn’t help me out at the gym this morning.

Although I stopped taking my prescriptions more than a month ago, I still have them. Lots of them actually because the last refill had been a big one. In all the time that I was on the medications, I never felt like they made a difference in the pain or symptoms, which is why I stopped taking them. I hate taking medication, but there are moments when I pause to consider the vials on my counter. What if I was wrong about the impact they made on the pain I felt? As much as my current pain levels are a far cry from what they used to be, I am still in pain. All of the time. It sucks. It saps energy and life from your body. It eats away at you from the inside and wears you down. Most of the time I can look beyond the pain and discomfort, but there are moments, sometimes days, when that is difficult to do. I think today is one of those days. Perhaps most of the week has been like that, and certainly my body is still re-learning and adjusting to being back at work, even if with limited hours.

I am tired, frustrated, and hurting, yet the day was not all gloom.

I got to go to the gym today! Although this injury has significantly impacted my ability to train as I would like, I am still of the mindset that going to the gym is a positive. My body might not always enjoy working out these days, but I am always glad to be able to do it.

My youngest son came by today. Sure, he was only here to pick up some mail, but that’s two days in a row I got to see my baby boy.

It’s far too easy to allow pain, fatigue, and low mood to throw road blocks in front of any sort of productivity I might have planned, but I managed to get a few things done today.

I laughed. Not the fake laugh one does when being polite but genuine laughter. Mostly at my own expense and that’s okay. It was still the sort of laughter that lessens the weightiness of whatever is sitting on your shoulders. And I didn’t laugh alone, which only increases its’ potency.

I finished off one book and began another. You would think that someone who had been off work and essentially idle for seven months would have read plenty of books, but the pain was too distracting and my head too foggy to focus on written words up until recently.

 

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8 Months, 7 Months

I’d like to say that tomorrow is the day I have been anticipating for seven months, but the truth is that my seven months of medical leave were more necessary than I could have imagined back in December. Sure, I was hopeful about returning to work in December, February, March, and April and disappointed when it didn’t happen, but my desire to return to work was firmly based on emotion. My body, however, was relieved with every delay in going back to work. So in reality my body has only recently begun to fall in line with my emotions, and I feel confident that now is the best time to go back to work.

It’s not the ideal time, but one cannot always wait for something that might not ever be. Ideally, all my pain and nerve-related symptoms would be completely gone by the time I return to work. Tomorrow will be 8 months since herniating my disc, and I still have symptoms and pain. Only the severity has changed. Everything I feel these days is tolerable but annoying. Tolerable but constant. Tolerable but still impacting my daily life. I hope that things will continue to improve. I hope that there will come a day when I have no more symptoms, but I don’t know when that will be. Or if ever. I strongly suspect that even if  these symptoms do vanish, they will show up again from time to time. I cannot wait for someday.

I return to work tomorrow, but I will have a graduated return for the first month or so. I feel good about it and realistic. My body will most likely not be as thrilled with resuming work activities as I am. Tomorrow is supposed to be a gym day for me. With a short work shift in the middle of the day, I will need to go to the gym sometime after work. I am going to play that by ear, knowing that I might be physically done in by the end of my work shift and that I have flexibility with the rest of my week to get the training in. Continuing to be smart by listening to my body is kind of the name of the game.

Resting

I overheard a bit of conversation between two women in the change room at the gym this morning. The older woman had asked how the younger woman was doing which brought up recent struggles with either allergies or a cold, as well as the fact that her young daughter had been sick for several weeks previously. More rest was suggested by the older woman. The young woman pointed out that she didn’t typically stay up very late; however, she also said that she routinely gets up at 4:00 each morning to go do her cardio before returning home to resume her day. I am at the gym three times a week between 8 and 10 in the morning, and I see this young woman in the weight area almost every time. I don’t know if this woman is a stay-at-home mom or if she works outside of the home in addition to caring for her child (or children), but it sounds as if she is a busy person. The conversation ended with the young woman going to do her workout, while the older woman finished changing to leave.

Hearing that this woman gets up at 4 AM to do cardio makes me wonder what kind of crazy she is! I’m kidding. Mostly. Training and/or going to a gym wasn’t part of my lifestyle when my kids were little, but I understand that people sometimes do need to plan life at odd hours to make things happen. It’s not so much the time that amazes me but rather the excess. Getting up that early to put in that much time doing cardio, then going to the gym to weight train…that sounds like a lot of physical activity for an average person, an average person with at least one young child to take care of. I’ve made training a consistent part of my routine and, up until this injury, I was training with intensity and the purpose of competing. I can’t say that I’ve never done cardio at 4:00 in the morning, because I did back in my running days when training for the marathon I never got to run. So I get that life is busy and you gotta do what you gotta do, but if you’re sick you need more rest!

I first woke up around 5 this morning, rolled over and let myself drift back into sleep. Around 6:30 I woke up enough that I could have got up and begun my day, but I was still so exhausted and sluggish. I laid there for about an hour, fading in and out of sleep, having already decided to forego my morning cup of coffee before the gym in exchange for my laziness. Only now as I replay that overheard conversation, I don’t see my decision to stay in bed as laziness, but rather as self-preservation.

It’s no secret that I’ve been exhausted for months, since herniating my disc. I’m sure there are many reasons for why that is: medication, pain, healing processes, lack of quality sleep, and so on. I’ve made progress in many ways over the months, but I am still not where I want to be. It is easy enough to remember that healing takes time and still easy to forget. Physically I am not sick, but that doesn’t mean my body doesn’t need rest. Healing is hard work. As I did my workout this morning and my new rehab exercises, I was thankful for that extra hour of rest! I left the gym feeling as limp as a wrung out dish cloth; I don’t know I could have made it through all of my exercises without that extra rest.

The moral of the story, I think, is to listen to your body and take time for rest. Rest days are a regular part of my training life, but sometimes your body still needs something more. If you’re sick or injured or simply overwhelmed, cut yourself some slack. Maybe you can skip that 4:00 AM cardio session once or twice in order to get a few more hours of sleep. Canceling one night’s plans for a quiet evening in might be just the charge your battery needs. A weekend walk in nature will refresh your soul more than a Netflix binge session ever could. An early morning cup of coffee on the patio by yourself might be just what you need to ground your day with clarity and purpose. I think the methods are many and uniquely personal.

 

Days That Blur Together

How is it the middle of May already? Part of me wants to slow time down just enough so my days stop blurring together, and yet, I would really rather prefer time to speed up enough so I could be past this injury and healing process already. I have been waiting as patiently as I can for healing and progress and an appointment with a neurosurgeon. My days are mostly boring and routine, but I struggle to keep track of which day of the week it is today. A piece of good news is that I now have an appointment date with the neurosurgeon for the end of the month, which makes me feel hopeful, as if I have finally taken a step forward after being stuck in one place for so long. Between now and then, my routine remains the same: rehab exercises, gym, doctor appointments, chiro appointments, brief periods of light housework and activity, small grocery shopping trips, dinner prep, periods of reclining, the odd occasion to get out of the house, and less than restful sleep.

The past few days have been quite bad for pain, although I cannot pinpoint any particular activity to have caused the increase in pain, except for sitting to get my hair done yesterday. As I am reclining alone in my living room, I feel like a wounded animal, whimpering and reclusive. Truth be told, I am literally whimpering. From my buttocks to my toes, there is very strong, burning pain and tingling, throbbing and pulsing, micro spasms and stabbing sharp pains. The low back itself feels unstable and supremely achy. When I am standing or walking, there is pain deep in my hips, and my left leg frequently feels as if it will collapse beneath me. The left calf and portions of the left foot and toes are still permanently numb. So much fun!

But all is not sadness and frustration, even though there is a great deal of both. My head is in a pretty good place these days, despite the pain and lack of progress in healing. I smile and laugh, even through the tears that can find reason to spill. With an appointment marked on my calendar, I feel hopeful that something might happen soon. Maybe a recommendation for surgery. Despite surgery not being a welcome outcome originally, I am now at a place where I can see the benefits of going that route and would embrace the opportunity. My heart is light and tender and open. I see things to be thankful for, things big and small, the ordinary and the quirky. It’s really just about placing one foot in front of the other and going forward, even if only inches at a time.

Staying Alive

I haven’t blogged much about my training since herniating my disc six months ago, because there hasn’t really been much to blog about. My workouts consist of exercises that are safe for my back, as well as whatever exercises I can do to work the rest of my body. It’s a far cry from what I was doing when preparing for a powerlifting competition, and some days that chafes more than others. I know I am capable of so much more, but I also know that healing takes time and pushing too hard won’t help me get better.

As I was resting between sets today, my thoughts flashed back to a conversation I had with someone a few weeks ago about dealing with injuries. This fellow told me that he had to stop going to the gym for two years because of a shoulder injury. I probably found that odd at the time, but I didn’t think about it too much until today. As much as I am not satisfied with the rehab-type training I have been doing for six months, I cannot imagine not going to the gym. This guy had a shoulder problem, but surely he could have continued working out in some capacity while healing the shoulder! Then I considered many of the individuals working out around me.

Everyone has different reasons and purposes for going to the gym. Still, it isn’t all that uncommon to see men focus their attention mainly on their chest and arms. A lot of women focus on their butt or cardio. With a focus on developing one body part or area, there is often little exercise done for other body parts. I guess this is why a shoulder injury would keep someone from the gym for two years. Rather than doing shoulder rehab exercises at the gym and working legs or cardio, the better option seemed to be to do nothing. I don’t understand that concept. Maybe I would have before going to the gym became a regular part of my routine, but now I can’t fathom staying away from the gym because something hurts.

My back and legs hurt 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that has been the case for more than 6 months now. With the exception of the first week post-injury and the odd extra rest day, I have continued to go to the gym three times a week. I am not deadlifting. I am not squatting with a barbell on my back. I didn’t even resume bench presses until a few months ago, and the weight I’m using is far less than my pre-injury max. Some days my workout barely makes me sweat. We’ve tried different exercises, keeping ones that are okay and removing ones that cause more pain. If something is making my back hurt more, I am supposed to stop. It’s not what I used to be able to do, but at least I am doing something!

I am not a doctor or physiotherapist or personal trainer, but I’m pretty sure that movement is an integral part of regaining and maintaining health in most situations. What that movement looks like will vary depending on the situation, but keep moving! There are moments in my day (or entire days) where my body just wants to be immobile. For me, laying down doesn’t alleviate the pain…it just reduces the back pain and increases the leg pain. I need to change my position frequently, so I make a point of moving, even when I don’t really want to. I walk. I do some light housework. I recline to take the strain off my back. I go to the gym. I do my physio exercises. I do my chiro exercises.

My progress with healing feels stuck and has felt that way for months, but my mobility has improved greatly. My ability to bend, twist, lift my legs has all improved, even if not always the same from day to day. The pain hasn’t changed too much for the better, but I am glad that I can move better. Part of that is likely just the nature of healing, but I have a feeling that staying as active as I can has also played a vital role. So my advice to you is to keep moving! Do what you can do and do it regularly.

Defining Success

However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.

~Stephen Hawking

It’s May, and spring is in full bloom all around me. Leaves now wave at me from my maple tree, and the front yard hedge once again provides some beauty against the ugly backdrop of traffic. A bouquet of yellow flowers grace my dining room table. The sun is shining, and the weather is fine. It’s a great time to get outdoors and to be active…if you can.

I wish I could do more. I think it has been about three years since I last went for a run, and, while I am content to no longer consider myself a runner, I suddenly wish that I could. Of course, the very thought of running is enough to inflict more pain upon my body. I have no intention of going for a run today, next week, or next year, and yet, I’d give up my Star Wars collection to be healthy enough to run.

On social media, I see all sorts of people getting out and about, doing things that I can only look upon with mild jealousy. My son is enjoying his afternoon off work by going for a hike. ‘Tis the season of camping, paddle boarding, hiking, cycling, and all sorts of outdoorsy physical activities. My desire to be active is high, like I am going stir-crazy here high, but I also have to respect my limitations and the pain. Could I go for a hike? Sure! But for how long? How far? How difficult the terrain? As it is there are days where basic walking is slow and painfully uncomfortable.

So yeah…it feels like there is a great deal of things that I cannot do these days, outdoors and indoors. But I still manage to putter around doing little things or things in small bits. Today I baked cookies and did my chiro homework and washed dishes. I will probably throw together something for supper, too. Tomorrow’s dinner has been planned out and ingredients gathered. Tomorrow I will go to the gym (though not doing all the things I’d like), make my Star Wars-themed dinner, do my chiro homework, and play the rest of the day by ear, or more appropriately, by back and legs (as in how much pain I’m in.)

Tomorrow is the sixth month anniversary of injuring my back. It’s not exactly the kind of anniversary I’d like to celebrate, but things happen and you just have to deal with it the best you can. The past six months have drastically changed what I can and cannot do, and I am not always happy about that. I have never been the busiest person around, but I was used to being much more active and productive than I have been since the injury. It’s easy to focus on what I can’t do and what I’m missing out on. Although I am confident that this injury will eventually be a thing of the past, the vagueness of “someday” can cloud my sense of purpose and usefulness. Stephen Hawking certainly had a more difficult life than I do, so I guess I need to try looking for what I can do through this difficult season.

 

Not Quite Yet

I was looking forward to returning to work next week. When I first admitted that a medical leave of absence would be of immense benefit to healing, I honestly had no idea how long I would be off work. The initial leave was two weeks, but I realized that it wasn’t going to be enough and asked my doctor to approve a longer leave. I still had no idea how long, so I was surprised when my doctor told me to take another 8 weeks which would see me back to work after February 12th. After being home for 2.5 months, I was mentally ready to get back to work, and I was hopeful about being physically ready with a few accommodations. At the end of January I submitted the necessary paperwork from my doctor to head office and began preparing for a return to work.

The leave of absence people finally responded to my submission yesterday, and I was informed that they were unable to approve my return to work based on the restrictions noted by my doctor. I could rant about my doctor, but I won’t. While I may not agree with everything my doctor put on the form, I also cannot deny that the majority of the restrictions are reasonable and appropriate. Still, I wasn’t expecting to be denied and it stung. Instead of returning to work next week, I remain on leave until mid-March and will need to see my doctor for an updated abilities form. Once again I feel like I am letting down my co-workers, because I know they were looking forward to having me back as much as I was looking forward to being back.

I didn’t see that lemon being hurtled my way, but I can be quick on my feet sometimes. It’s almost easy to see the benefits of remaining on medical leave for another month…

  • no need to wake up at 4:00 AM
  • I can continue wearing nail polish
  • I can continue wearing yoga pants almost exclusively (because belts and jeans seem to aggravate my back)
  • I can watch as much of the Olympics as I want
  • I no longer need to dial back my training at the gym in anticipation of an increase in pain the first few weeks of being back to work
  • another month off means that I will have another month to focus on healing and regaining strength, flexibility, and mobility
  • winter might be over by the time I get back to work